Last week my firm of solicitors sent me their letter of engagement to confirm some work I had asked them to do. The documents arrived in a very smart folder, which boasted on its front cover ‘exceptional client service, every time’.
I was appalled to see:
- The first line of my address was missing from the covering letter – the document only reached me because the local postman knows where I live
- The legal instruction described in the letter named a completely different client, which made me think that my own instruction had been sent to another person
- The ‘scope of work’ detailed in the letter was wrong
- The instruction form I was being asked to sign named me at the top but cited a completely different work instruction.
You can imagine my reaction! So I sent a stinging email of complaint to my solicitor.
In my solicitor’s shoes, what would you have done?
Mistakes are not unusual. Indeed, they are natural, but they needn’t be inevitable. From our years of experience of working in the field of accuracy skills training, we know that mistakes happen across all sectors and types of work. All human beings make mistakes, regardless of seniority, experience or even how conscientious they are. We understand why mistakes happen and how to overcome the natural barriers to accuracy.
Law firms, just like all organisations, are not immune from mistakes. Our work in accuracy skills training has made us aware of mistakes in the legal world ranging from incorrect client names through to a barrister being handed the wrong bundle of papers on his way to court!
There are practical techniques each and every one of us can learn to minimise mistakes and there are ways to develop strategies to prevent mistakes at work. (Clearly my solicitor could benefit from finding out about these!) But it’s how an organisation behaves when a mistake has been made which, I think, speaks volumes about its culture.
You do need to weigh up the cost of fixing mistakes – or of not fixing them! You also need to think about the human as well as financial cost of an error, both to the people in your organisation and to your customer.
How do you think my solicitor replied to my email complaining about the mistakes contained in the documents I had been sent?
I had been expecting a prompt telephone call of apology, reassuring me that everything was being put right and that my business is important to them.
What actually happened was that my complaint was delegated to the administrative person who had made the mistakes and who told me, in an email, that she had been using a new computer system that she was ‘still trying to get [her] head around’.
Taking responsibility for errors is important. And certainly the person who made an error should wherever possible, be involved in putting it right. But I was left with the impression that this administrative person had been roundly told off for making the mistakes and given the job of replying to me. Wouldn’t it have been so much better if the solicitor handling my case had taken responsibility for the mistakes and contacted me in person, assuring me that they were exploring what had happened and putting in place measures to prevent them happening again. Managers need to foster an open culture in which mistakes are embraced for the learning opportunities they represent. There are a number of positive learning experiences which could potentially emerge from the errors made in my documents but I doubt the matter will be properly addressed. A blame culture simply leads to people hiding their mistakes. I wonder what the response will be when I approach the firm’s partners about the benefits of accuracy skills training?
Scott Bradbury is publishing a book called Preventing Mistakes at Work in September 2016. You can download the first chapter here: https://www.accuracyprogramme.co.uk/programmes/preventing-mistakes-work/
Catherine de Salvo will be presenting a free half-day introduction to accuracy skills training in London on 21 September. The event is called Reducing the Cost of Error and you can find out more by visiting: https://www.accuracyprogramme.co.uk/events/
People booking to attend Reducing the Cost of Error will receive a free copy of the book Preventing Mistakes at Work.
Accuracy Asides is the name of our accuracy blog
You get to hear about our latest accuracy course results, the real-life 'bloomers' which come to our attention and all the latest news and juicy gossip about errors! We share accuracy tips and advice too.
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